Here’s the way I think it works most of the time. One day, you figure out what it is that you really want to do, whether it’s woodworking, funneling ill-gotten gains into offshore accounts, or making music. And that night, while you sleep, God comes down, sits on your head and talks to you in a dream you’re not going to remember the next day. And God says, you have a choice. You can either be famous for what you do or extraordinarily good at what you do. Choose. And you say, well, why can’t I be both? And God says, because no one likes a showoff.
And this seems to make perfect sense, because, after all, Van Gogh only sold one painting while he was alive, while Boris Vallejo has become a millionaire airbrushing pneumatic chicks into metal bikinis. So you make your choice and then you wake up and your subconscious remembers what you said to God, and your life starts bending in that direction.
(The irony is that God doesn’t actually hold you to your decision. The Big Guy actually seems to believe in that whole “free will” thing; he just likes to see if you do, too. This is why on occasion the talented become famous, and even rarer occasions the fame-seeking grow some talent. But I think most of us just figure the deal is settled.)
It’s pretty clear where Todd Dorman came down on the “fame vs. talent” conversation with God, because Dorman’s (the man and the band, which share the same name) When I Come to You is packed in with the seemingly effortless Neil Finn – Peter Case genre of intelligent songcraft that makes other songwriters fume with envy. Musicians grind out entire careers without dropping a single song of the sort that Dorman seems to toss off in bulk here. He’s the Sam’s Club of thoughtful pop.
When I Come to You ups the ante by also being spiritual pop — Jesus shows up to chat in one song (“Won’t You Mercy Me”) and is brought up in conversation in several others. For unbelievers and the religiously slack (and I count myself in that number), Jesus’ special guest appearances in pop music aren’t always a welcome thing. But Dorman’s not particularly interested in popping Him up on the Crucifix and then waving Him around like a special effect or a bludgeon. Dorman engages his faith and enters into a dialogue with it; it’s belief with a brain. The previously mentioned songwriting talent doesn’t hurt, either.
Dorman is particularly adept at crystallizing moments in song. “A Last Night,” focuses in on the final moments of a relationship that a lover has to will himself to destroy; “Wrecking Ball,” uses the destruction of a house as a springboard to examine a life; the previously mentioned “Won’t You Mercy Me,” expands on a moment of forgiveness. Probably the most poignant moment on the album is in “When the Day is Done,” written in the aftermath of 9/11. In the song, Dorman takes cab to a church to pray and the cabbie talks about his son named Mohammed, who “has a nametag he’s afraid to put on.” The specific moment illuminates the chaos of the day. It’s a neat trick. It’s not all pop perfection. Dorman, who has a literary bent (he’s got an MFA from Columbia) can get a little too clever for his own good. In “Minotaur” he packs in more mythic references than the song can comfortably contain; Dorman himself cops a plea to overdoing it (but then doesn’t bother to stop). By and large, however, When I Come to You hits what it wants to hit.
Now we get to see whether Dorman and his crew (Sean Dolan on drums, Thane Sheetz on bass, and Elise Kuder on violin — which plays the part normally handled by electric guitar rather effectively) can exercise free will and swing the fame thing to go with the talent. That’s going to be the tough part; notwithstanding that dreamtime conversation with God, the problem with making great Neil Finn – Peter Case pop confections is that the kids aren’t exactly screaming for the next Neil Finn or Peter Case CD. Stupid kids.
(For more reviews of independent music, visit www.indiecrit.com).Powered by Sidelines